Sermo finally announces plans for mobile

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 23, 2011        

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SermoAfter “years of pressure” from its physician members, Sermo, an online physician community has finally announced plans to create a mobile app. Sermo inked a deal with Janssen Global Services to develop mobile and web services that will specifically enable physicians to more easily refer patients for care. Sermo says it has 120,000 physicians as members, which makes for one in five of all US physicians.

Sermo said one of the drivers for moving to mobile is that more than 50 percent of its members are now smartphone users. While the company did not offer a specific percentage, it sounds like the figure is well below the oft quoted physician smartphone adoption figure from Manhattan Research, which believes that smartphone adoption is currently north of 72 percent of US physicians.

The companies’ press release stated that both physicians and patients complain that care today is compromised by lack of connectivity and follow-up:

“Our research shows there is tremendous frustration among doctors and patients about the lack of solutions to coordinate care, and new technologies appear to be compounding, rather than solving, the problem,” Daniel Palestrant MD, CEO and Chairman of Sermo stated in a press release. “EMR and EHR have become so contentious among physicians, because they create barriers and introduce complexity into the patient relationship, rather than remove them.” Dr. Palestrant continues, “For years we have been under tremendous pressure from our community to offer a mobile application, but we have resisted because we wanted to have a truly transformative impact on the point of care. Our community has validated that our approach achieves that goal.”

Based on a conversation MobiHealthNews had with Sermo two years ago, it might be a safe bet that Sermo’s mobile offerings will land on the iPhone first:

“We don’t have any near-term strategies on mobile,” Sharp told MobiHealthNews in April 2009. “But I think that there are some really good mobile technologies already out there for physicians, like applications for information for providing patient care. That’s not something we’re looking to pursue, because I don’t see any reason to reinvent a very, very good wheel,” Sharp said. “I am sure at some point we will actually get on the iPhone,” Sharp relented. “I’m a little biased — I’m an iPhone junkie. At the office, we are an all-Mac company, so I do anticipate that, at some point, one of our developers will get the itch to write an iPhone app. So we’ll probably have more on that down the road.”

And here we are.

It’s also worth noting that pressure from the recent launch of Doximity, which was founded by former Epocrates’ founders and pulled in $10.8 million in initial funding, may have had something to do with the sudden “itch” to launch a mobile offering.

More in Sermo’s press release after the jump. Keep reading>>

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Mobile tech only goes so far in Japan relief efforts

By: Neil Versel | Mar 23, 2011        

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PAMF's Dr. Enoch Choi

Technology has its limits.

At least one American aid team has dispatched to Japan, iPhones and iPads with mobile EMR software and medical reference tools in hand. But they haven’t been able to unleash the power of their handheld computers to help the estimated 261,000 people still living in shelters as of Wednesday—12 days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

“They’re desperate for basic food, water, fuel,” says Dr. Enoch Choi, an urgent care physician at Palo Alto (Calif.) Medical Foundation and medical director of Jordan International Aid, a California-based Christian aid organization. “They’re out of medicine.”

There is a particular shortage of potassium iodide pills to counter the effects of radiation from crippled nuclear power plants, Choi says.

Jordan International Aid has sent a team of nine disaster-response veterans, including a physician and a nurse, to help in the coastal city of Ishinomaki, which was all but washed away by the tsunami that followed the 9.0-magnitude quake on March 11. But most couldn’t get transportation from Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and the largest city in Japan’s Tohugu region, where the disaster is centered.

“The sad thing is, medical volunteers are all jammed up in Sendai,” Choi reports. While he remains in California, he is in regular contact with the aid team in Japan and is preparing for future relief missions once the situation is more under control.

“This time, it’s almost far too early,” says Choi, who notes that the conditions are very different in Japan than they were in Haiti last year. Choi helped put together nine relief missions to Haiti in 2010, where he and other clinicians charted patients with iChart mobile EMR software on iPhone 4s, obtained through a grant from Epocrates.

For the Japan relief efforts, the team has six iPhone 4s and three iPads, plus mobile Internet access via a MiFi hot spot donated by XCom Global.

So far, only a couple of Jordan International Aid representatives have made it to Ishinomaki. (Jesse Mendoza, president of the organization, has posted a series of videos, shot on an iPhone, of his journey to Ishinomaki and his observations there.) Keep reading>>

T-Mobile USA powers caregiver device, remote care service

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 23, 2011        

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GeaCom's Phrazer

If you took stock of T-Mobile USA’s activities in mobile health as of a few days ago — and we did — you’d notice the mobile operator had little to no mHealth partnerships announced or services supported. This week, however, T-Mobile USA announced two partnerships with healthcare companies where the operator is supporting the services’ with connectivity via its data network.

Multi-lingual caregiver device runs on T-Mobile USA’s network

GeaCom’s handheld multi-lingual device Phrazer, which hopes to break down communication barriers between patients and care providers, will run on T-Mobile USA’s network. GeaCom said Phrazer will launch sometime mid-year.

“Medical communication is in a state of failure,” GeaCom COO Chris Butler stated in a company press release. “Phrazer will help eliminate communication barriers, thereby improving efficiency and accuracy and reducing costs. Certainly, having a reliable, widespread wireless network like that of T-Mobile is critical to Phrazer’s success.”

GeaCom’s press release points to a a 2003 study that found an average of 31 interpreter errors occur per encounter with limited English proficient patients. Of those errors, 63 percent result in clinical consequences, according to the company.

Phrazer’s initial target customers include hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers at the point of admissions, but GeaCom plans to offer the device to emergency rooms, other medical specialties and first response vehicles, too.

BeClose Network’s panic button powered by T-Mobile USA

BeClose offers an aging in place technology service that is backed by “a simple customizable system of unobstrusive, wireless sensors” that help caregivers monitor the daily activities of the resident. BeClose announced this week a deal with T-Mobile USA to power a panic button, which in this case is a two-way voice call initiated with the BeClose 24/7 central station partners, that can alert emergency responders and dispatch them if needed.

The BeClose system can cost as little as $1.50 a day, according to the company’s press release.

Interestingly, BeClose’s system is based on a research and development partnership with Alarm.com, an in-home wireless monitoring system that serves more than 500,000 homes and businesses nationwide.

Albert: iPad has already won healthcare tablet war

By: Neil Versel | Mar 23, 2011        

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AliveCor's iPhone ECGA week ago, MobiHealthNews shot down the myth that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to start regulating mobile medical apps. In reality, the FDA has been regulating mobile software for years.

Way back in 1997, Data Critical, a company bought by GE Healthcare in 2001, earned FDA 510(k) clearance for its RhythmStat XL software that wirelessly transmits ECG data from a heart monitor to a handheld device, in this case a Psion palmtop computer.

The inventor of RhythmStat—and founder of Data Critical—is a familiar name in mobile healthcare, Dr. David E. Albert. Most recently, Albert has been in the news for his newest creation, the iPhone ECG, which generated a lot of buzz at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Albert actually has been thinking about marrying a single-lead ECG to a mobile device since the time of RhythmStat. “The idea is 13-14 years old,” he tells MobiHealthNews. “Quite frankly, we could not implement it because the technology didn’t exist in the 1990s.” Keep reading>>

mHealth Alliance director David Aylward to step down

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 22, 2011        

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David Aylward

Photo Credit: Ethan Goldwater

Last week the executive director of the mHealth Alliance (mHA) David Aylward decided to step down from his position as head of the alliance to focus “his talents and commitment to mHealth… on delivery of mHealth rather than running the multi-faceted Alliance,” UN Foundation Chief Executive Officer Kathy Calvin wrote in an email to mHA partners. Aylward has held the position since the fall of 2009 — shortly after the founding of the mHA.

“As founding Executive Director, David provided the vision and passion that built the mHA into a reality,” Calvin wrote. “We are indebted to David for his service over these last two years. His contributions have set the mHA on the path to great success. The UN Foundation will continue to host and support the mHA, and as we undergo the search for the new Executive Director, the mHA will be managed by a team comprised of current mHA staff members plus members of the UN Foundation’s accomplished Global Health team.”

Calvin said that the UN Foundation’s Managing Director of Global Health Kate Dodson will lead the mHA management team, which includes Clive Smith, Jennifer Potts, Jody Ranck and Autumn Wilner-Heard. Calvin also said the team will report to UN Foundation COO Rick Parnell and herself, too. Aylward will help with the transition, Calvin said.

“mHealth is one of the most important, most promising opportunities for delivering better health outcomes worldwide,” Calvin concluded, “and we are committed to continuing the work of the mHA to make that vision a reality.”

As executive director of the mHA, Aylward served in one of the most visible leadership roles of the emerging mHealth field:

“Getting a rational eHealth system with a sophisticated mHealth system extending it into the community, is certainly where we are trying to go,” Aylward Alliance told MobiHealthNews shortly after he took the helm at the mHA. ”We certainly don’t have either in this country. Even if we do find a good model, it’s not clear to me that we would import it back into this country. What could happen though is a whole bunch of consumer-based health services that were one step removed from the core health system in the developed market could be a result of success in the developing markets. The industrial barriers to interoperability in the U.S. — and I don’t know about Europe but I suspect the same thing — are so powerful that even a whole bunch of good examples from Africa and Asia is not going to overcome the vested economic interests in the United States.”

Calvin hinted that Aylward would be moving into role where he would work to deliver mHealth services. Given the high perch he has had for the 18 months, we look forward to learning more about his future pursuits in mHealth.

What does AT&T’s T-Mobile USA acquisition mean for mobile health?

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 21, 2011        

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Reasons T-Mobile USA deal benefits AT&T/T-Mob subscribers, according to Deutsche Telekom

Every couple of years another major mobile operator acquisition takes place in the US — in 2008 Verizon Wireless bought Alltel, which made Verizon Wireless the largest operator in the US by subscribers. This year it looks to be AT&T’s bid to acquire T-Mobile USA for $39 billion. While this deal still faces considerable regulatory challenges, we wondered what an AT&T-T-Mobile merger would mean for mobile health.

On the face of it, not much. More than any of the other major US mobile operators T-Mobile USA has most often stood on the sidelines of mobile health activity. Maybe T-Mobile has just kept mum on its mHealth pursuits, but the operator has made little more than a peep about mobile health these past few years.

WellCare: T-Mobile USA’s idea for an mHealth service

At the Mobile Health event produced by Stanford University’s Persuasion Technology Lab, the director of strategic innovation at the T-Mobile Creation Center, Winston Wang showed attendees a “concept” for a mobile health service that his team had created to explain the mHealth opportunity to the operators’ top brass:

Wang played a short commercial for a concept service his team developed, called T-Mobile’s WellCare. The video showed a woman in her late 60s or early 70s waking up, taking medication and going for a walk. As she moves from her bedroom to her bathroom, a “nightlight” glows and blinks indicating it recognized movement. After she takes her medication, a younger woman, assumedly her daughter, is shown in another location receiving a text message. As the older lady laces up and goes for a walk, an “activity monitor” message appears on her TV screen in the background, and the younger woman once again gets an alert — assumedly one that tells her that her mother is on-the-move. “WellCare from T-Mobile let’s you loved ones keep their independence, while keeping you informed,” the “commercial” concluded.

Wang made clear at the time that T-Mobile USA had no plans to develop this idea into a product or service.

Text4Baby: The only mHealth initiative T-Mobile USA has been involved with?

T-Mobile USA was involved in one of the major mHealth service launches in the US last year — Text4Baby. Of course, every US mobile operator — large and small — seemed to be involved with the launch of Text4Baby. Text4Baby is a free mHealth service that “provides timely and expert health information through SMS text messages to pregnant women and new moms through their babies’ first year.” Mobile operators played a big part in the program’s accessibility — the operators all waived the fees for Text4Baby-related messages, which would typically cost users the same amount as any other text message they sent or received.

My colleague Neil Versel had a rare peak inside the mind of one of T-Mobile USA’s healthcare leads: Scott Ellis, business development manager of telemedicine for T-Mobile USA, told attendees at the Mobile Health Expo in Las Vegas last year that the T-Mobile USA had made a conscious decision not to offer direct mHealth products, but rather to provide network and custom billing support to partners.

“It makes a very clean model for us,” Ellis said at the time.

T-Mobile USA: 2G is good enough for mHealth

Ellis also made an impression on EMR & HIPAA’s writer John Glynn who noted that Ellis told attendees at that same Mobile Health Expo event that mHealth services don’t need 3G data network support and that 2G suffices in most cases. While 3G and 4G data networks open up the possibility for higher bandwidth video applications and the like, 2G can certainly handle those devices that only ping the network once in a while — like with alert apps, for example.

Conclusion: T-Mobile USA is not heavily invested in mHealth

As far as the public record goes, it seems T-Mobile USA is not very interested in nor very active in mobile health. It’s new suitor, AT&T is far more active. AT&T announced the launch of its ForHealth group last year and has inked deals with chronic disease management service providers like WellDoc, MedApps, Vitality and others.

T-Mobile USA’s lack of interest in mobile health, however, does not preclude this $39 billion acquisition from helping AT&T’s position in mHealth.

If the acquisition of T-Mobile USA clears the necessary regulatory hurdles, T-Mobile USA’s parent company Deutsche Telekom would own about 8 percent of AT&T and also have a seat on the company’s board. A strong partner in Europe could bring an number of opportunities.

Also, the most talked about of AT&T’s current challenges is its network capacity issues. Smartphone users in San Francisco and New York City are especially vocal about connectivity issues with AT&T’s 3G network. The acquisition of T-Mobile USA brings an impressive amount of new wireless spectrum and capacity to AT&T’s networks.

It would mean more bandwidth and better coverage for mobile health app users, too.

More on AT&T’s planned acquisition of T-Mobile USA over at Engadget